Strategizing Stress, Part 1

Training, like life, is a messy business.

I say this because lately I’ve been working with two excellent models of athletic training, Pose Method and MAF. Writing about them is the easy part. Applying them is more difficult. I recently ran across a very interesting case of a Pose/MAF enthusiast who wants to develop an aerobic base according to MAF principles, but has to sacrifice the correct form (a.k.a. running Pose) to do so.

(And ends up getting plantar fasciitis in the process.)

However, just because you get plantar fasciitis when you run at an aerobic intensity—which for most people means “running slowly” (OK, very slowly)—does NOT mean that you get to skip building an aerobic base. Building an aerobic base is important. And to ensure any sort of long-term well-being (particularly as an athlete), it’s necessary. One of the key functions of the aerobic system is to buffer and absorb the stresses induced by high-intensity activity.

In order to develop a good aerobic base, it’s important to stay at a low intensity. According to the MAF Method, the point at which you get the most bang for your buck out of aerobic base building is just under the MAF Heart rate (what researchers refer to as the “aerobic threshold”).

But a certain amount of energy is necessary to maintain good running form. If the aerobic system can’t provide enough energy, then your body has to work harder (increasing the intensity) and recruit the anaerobic system to provide the rest. When the aerobic system becomes relegated to its auxiliary function—processing the by-products of anaerobic exercise (lactate and hydrogen ions)—it will begin to break down. Two strategies help protect its health:

  • Allowing it to rest between periods of high-intensity activity.
  • Creating opportunities for it to be the main provider of energy for exercise.

So, when someone has to forgo the period of low-intensity training that we typically term “aerobic base training,” it becomes very important to strategize the stresses of exercise. On the metabolic side, running slow isn’t worth the plantar fasciitis it’ll create (in this case). And on the biomechanic side, we have to be careful that the stresses of running at a higher intensity don’t exceed what an untrained aerobic base can handle.

A safe way to do this is by taking a hybrid approach:

Combine 2-3 days a week of relatively easy Pose training (running+drills) with 2-3 days a week of walking, jumping rope 5 days a week anywhere from 5-15 minutes. While this isn’t really aerobic base training, it is still a way to develop (or at least maintain) aerobic fitness while taking steps to remain injury-free. While the Pose training is “higher intensity,” there are two options for how to manage it correctly:

  • Keep sessions short (read: fatigue-free) and high-intensity (threshold pace and above).
  • Do longer (also fatigue-free) sessions below the anaerobic threshold.

In regards to aerobic training: even if you walk quickly, you’re unlikely to come close to your MAF HR. However, you’ll still be able to develop aerobically at a slower pace. A better option, if you have the means, is to go doing moderate hiking with your heart rate monitor, which should put your heart rate a little bit closer to MAF, for the most part. I myself happen to have trails 5 minutes away from my doorstep (downtown!), but that isn’t the case for most of us.

Jumping rope will get your heart rate closer to MAF than walking. Another benefit is that it helps you train one of the key components of running: the Pose. The Pose is that snapshot of the running gait where one foot is on the ground, the other is passing under the hips, and the body is in a slightly S-shaped stance.

By jumping rope—or even better, (a) jumping rope while alternating feet or (b) doing simple Pose drills in the process—it’s possible (for a lot of us) to train the running Pose without going over the MAF HR. (Remember: trying to maintain the running Pose was the initial reason for exceeding MAF.) But after having practiced the running pose under the MAF HR, it’ll take comparatively less aerobic base training to be able to produce the running Pose at the desired, low-intensity heart rate.

How long will it take to develop an aerobic base that’s good enough to maintain a running Pose throughout a run? It really depends on the person: their metabolic and biomechanical starting point, lifestyle, and devotion to their pursuit of athleticism.


8 thoughts on “Strategizing Stress, Part 1”

  1. Hello Ivan,

    Thanks for referring to me as a “interesting case” LOL :-). And many thanks for your responses on my FB post. I did some further reading on your site as well as going through Phil Maffetone’s site. Tons of good information – especially your responsed to some of the comments sections! I have come to realize that I must be severely aerobically underdeveloped.

    I was really convinced that I was a fat burning runner being in nutritional ketosis for more than a year and doing 30k+ long runs fasted and without fueling nor bonking. When I tested BG after such long runs these would be sky high which I thought was weird but attributed to refilling glycogen stores. But I guess gluconeogenesis was also running overtime to provide the glucose I needed in stead of me burning fat. I still don’t understand why I never bonked, but I guess ketones would support providing energy.

    I also come to realize that perhaps the fact that I’m aerobically underdeveloped and running anaerobically have resulted in other effects. E.g., I got to have more mood swings, became more or less lethargic and quickly agitated. My family was suffering, but I continued tweaking with my diet (I was diagnosed with pre-diabetes and with parents being diabetic I had all reason not to go back to SAD). I guess I was suffering from overtraining and bad effects of sugar burning.

    I’m in the beginning a a ” MAF journey” so I have yet to see whether my hypothesis is correct. Last week I’ve been doing my runs 5 beats under MAF HR. 12-13 minute miles.. That hurts when your used to 7 minute miles ;-). When my HR rises too high I slowed down or walked, doing hops (jump rope simulation) to check technique and reinforce perception of correct landing. So far my foot seems to hold just fine. Weird thing is that afterwards I feel my legs more than after a 30k long run.

    Anyhow, let’s see how things are going the coming months. Thanks for point me to the information.

    Jo de Koek


    1. Jo:

      You’re welcome. I didn’t mention your name in order to protect your identity, but I’m glad you commented.

      From what you’re saying, you do have some characteristics of being a fat-adapted runner, particularly your ability of doing 30+ fasted kilometers.

      Which is doubly interesting.

      Could you tell me a little bit more about the timeline: when were you in ketosis, and when did the diagnosis and the signs and symptoms arise?

      There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done on identifying the subjective experience (how it feels to be fat-burning vs sugar-burning), but my impression is that the reason your legs feel heavier is because the body is using near exclusively slow-twitch fibers, with far less of the blend of muscle fiber activation that you see in faster running. So you’re tiring one system (in this case, the slow-twitch muscle fibers) far more than you would tire either system (slow-twitch and fast-twitch) if both kinds of muscle fibers were activated in a big way at the same time.

      Have you done any lab tests (VO2 Max, Fat MAX, LT, AerT, etc)?


      1. Hi Ivan,

        Sorry for the lengthy reply, but I’m really interested to see what you “can make out of me” :-).

        A bit of my background. In 2003 I started running (weighted 120kg at 186cm, never did do much sports during my life) and over time lost weight to approx. 85-90kg. (In 2004/2005 due to injuries and doctors telling me I’m not built for running which I refused to believe, I found and learned Pose running).

        My running to date is based on a Dutch training method called “Verheul / Souplesse method”. The following link may provide you with some background (introduction is in Dutch, article is in English): The “Souplesse” variant of the Verheul method also allows for long runs. And although part of the training method I never do much racing – occasionally 10k or half marathon. Also ran 2 marathons at that time.

        During all this time I had a warped relationship with food. Once/twice/three times a week I would binge eat on chocolates and caramel cookies – call me an emotional / stress / sugar addicted eater. My weight stayed stable at around 85-90kg.

        In 2013 I was diagnosed with pre-diabetes. The doctor wanted me on medicine to get BG down and stable. I did my own research and decided medicines is not the way to go, but nutrition. Half 2013 I switched to paleo-like low carb diet. Part of the switch is also focusing more on longer runs to enhance fat burning and I started running 30k+ to 50k long runs – but core of training still Souplesse. My BG still stayed pretty high (fasting around 5.5 to 6.2 mmol). End of 2014 I switched to ketosis. Keep carbs under 20grams. Transitioning to keto took around 2 months. Half 2015 my spouse complaint I changed in a negative way: my mood and being too thin. Weighed dropped to 77kg. I now start to believe it is not so much the diet, but perhaps overtraining. Not eating carbs and burning glucose mainly during running must have increased gluconeogenesis and perhaps “eating my muscles” too. And of course other side effects of sugar burning.

        My running was OK, but I wanted to improve aerobic capacity, so in April 2015 I decided to give MAF a try. That’s when I developed PF. I stopped running in June, only to start again in October/November with Souplesse type of running. While injured I started cycling. Twice a week to/back from work (one way is 35k, so around 70k a day) and in the weekends also 30-50k.

        Beginning this year I stopped measuring food intake and don’t know if I’m in ketosis or not. I do kind of intermittent fasting by skipping breakfasts (in essence 16/8) and still keep carbs as low as possible although I started eat a bit of rice and potatoes occasionally.

        Finally some data:
        – Hrmax was tested in 2008 on a stationary bike to be approx. 215
        – I did my own “Hrmax” test a couple of months ago, on the bike, and got my HR to 205.
        – I never tested Hrmax when running.
        – Long runs HR avg is 170-175
        – When I walk around HR is approx 115-120
        – Resting HR is 45-50.
        – When I sit at my desk HR averages 90-100.

        I never did any of tests you mentioned. I am considering doing a metabolic efficiency test to see when I switch from fat to sugar burning.

        Any inputs/thoughts from your side is appreciated! Again sorry for the lengthy post – feels like I’m in therapy now 🙂




  2. Therapy seems to turning into self-help, but hopefully you will respond soon. Sorry to be impatient….

    First, if I apply the 180 rule my MAF HR is 136. I have been using 146 as MF HR, due to reading somewhere that for fat-adapted runners the MAF formula could be based on 190 in stead of 180.

    Anyhow, been playing with both MAF HRs. A quick summary:

    Running below 146 MAF is slow, but I can actually maintain running for 1h30min with a few occasional hops when HR goes too high.

    Running below 136 MAF is impossible. I ended up with some sort of intervals, where I’d run until HR reaches 138, then I’d walk until HR drops to approx 125. HR drops to 125 within 30 seconds and when starting running HR raises to approx. 138 in 1min to 2min15 seconds. Did these intervals approx. 25 times.

    I have also done a morning and evening 36k bike ride (one way 36k commuting to and back from work – so totalling 72k) and kept HR around 138-140 all the time easily.

    Question: given other data I provided previously, what would you advice? Assume MAF HR is 146? Or first build aerobic base with 146 and as soon as I show improvements, start using a MAF HR of 136?

    Oh, and when I do a brisk walk, my HR stays around 115. With walking as fast as I can I cannot get my HR higher than 118/120.

    Thanks, Jo


    1. Jo:

      Thanks for the comment. I’ve been quite busy due to a work trip and I came back into town for the 2016 Indoor Track and Field Championships. Keep in mind that I answer comments on my blog on my own time (and I prioritize work, of course) so there’s no telling when I’ll get around to answering. Usually, I’m pretty fast to respond.

      I’d say to stick with your MAF HR as 136. I was mentioning in the comments on Dr. Maffetone’s website that being a “fat-adapted” runner in the sense of the modified 180-Formula is truly being in an elite group. Meaning, I’d use it only for people in the semi-elite corrals in any major marathon, and only maybe then. I’d say, for example, that many well-known ultrarunners wouldn’t qualify as “fat-adapted” in that sense. If you do think that your Aerobic Threshold (Fat Max/MAF HR) might be higher, I’d recommend you get appropriate tests done.

      What a very low athletic output at an aerobic heart rate means is that your fat-burning system is very weak. I’d say that exercising at an aerobic heart rate for some of the time (at least) is essential. If you don’t it’s unlikely that you’ll develop the ability to run aerobically.


  3. Thanks Ivan. Any response is much appreciated. So I conclude that my aerobic system / fat-burning system is, well, severely underdeveloped.

    Can I also conclude that as I’ve been following a ketogenic diet and my carb intake was on avg below 20g/day, and my running was largely anaerobic, thus glucose burning, fuel provisioning was largely done by glucose my body produced itself (gluconeogenesis)? Does this also mean that in order to facilitate that I may have “eaten up” my own muscles to provide for the required amino acids??

    Thanks, Jo


    1. Could be. It could also be a functional adaptation (albeit not the one you wanted): if you are constantly in gluconeogenesis and constantly in anaerobic activity, it makes sense for your body to match your anaerobic output to the amount of glucose your liver can produce. So yes, your body may have “eaten up” your muscles, but it may also have trimmed them down deliberately.


  4. Hmm… that’s why my wife started complaining I look like a male version of Twiggy…. So, MAF it will be the coming months….



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